The Semaine Olympique Francais sets sail today

Less than 100 days to go now until London 2012

Sunday April 22nd 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: France

With less than 100 days to go now until London 2012, so racing starts today at the Semaine Olympique Française in Hyères, providing one of the last chances for the Olympic sailors to line up prior to the Games themselves. Most of last year's winners are back to defend their titles.

Polish windsurfer and World no1, Piotr Myszka will be defending his title in the RS: X but with strong opposition including World Champion Julien Bontemps (FRA) and his teammate and European champion Przemyslaw Miarczynski. Among the RS:X Women, Zofia Klepacka (POL) will be one of the favourites after finishing second at the last two World Championships while France's Charline Picon, second here last year will defend her colours on home ground.

Racing is promising to be tough in the Lasers and Radials with most of the top international sailors in Hyères. Javier Hernandez (ESP) will be keen to get another victory, however the job will not be easy with the powerful Australian contingent led by Tom Slingsby and Tom Burton, European champion Tonci Stipanovic (CRO) and 2010 winner and Athens Silver medallist, Andreas Geritzer (AUT).

The heavyweight bout continues in the Laser Radial with most of the World best sailors on the starting line. World no1 Evi van Acker (BEL), will yet again face 2011 ISAF World Champion Marit Bouwmeester (NED) and Lijia Xu (CHN), who has started the season well winning both Sail Melbourne and Miami. They are the hot favourites, but Alicia Cebrian (ESP) two weeks ago won her first Sailing World Cup event in Palma. Then there is Tina Mihelic (CRO) and last year Hyeres silver and bronze medallists Sarah Steyaert (FRA) and Gintare Scheidt (LTU) will also stand a good chance to take the title won last year by Sarah Winther (NZL).

The French 470 Mens teams will have their work cut out this year. First and second here in 2011, Pierre Leboucher/Vincent Garos and Nicolas Charbonnier/Jeremie Mion, will face Worldno1s and World Champions Mat Belcher and Malcolm Page (AUS). The Australians had a great start this year after winning both the Rolex Miami OCR and the Trofeo Princesa Sofia Mapfre in Palma and they also hold a good lead in the ISAF SWC standings. Other threats to the French include the strong Japanese team of Yoshida/ Harada, the Italians Zucchetti/Zandona or the Croatians Sime Fantela and Igor Marenic, to name but a few.

Despite racing below their usual level in Palma last month, World no1s Tara Pacheco and Berta Betanzos (ESP) are favourite to defend their 470 title in Hyères. The Spanish team had perfect results last year after winning the European and World titles and should be at the front if the wind blows. World no2s Ai Kondo and Wakako Tabata (JAP), Berkhout/Westerhof (NED) or Italians Giulia Conti and Giovanna Micol (ITA) are also among the podium contenders.

The Semaine Olympique Française is the last Olympic 'observation' regatta for the French 470 Women's teams who will be under scrutiny all week. So this will be a race within the race.

Under similar scrutiny by their national selectors will be the powerful Danish 49er sailor, for whom Hyères is their last Olympic selection event. After Palma only a point separate the top two teams of Warrer/Hansen and Norregaard/Lang.

Otherwise in the Olympic skiff, last year winners, the Sibello brothers from Italy, will only be back with Gianfranco at the helm while his brother is waiting for the green light to get back on board after last year health problems. The hot favourites for the title will be World champions Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen (AUS) who will start their European season in Hyères. The French will provide some good competition in the form of Manu Dyen and Stéphane Christidis (FRA) and young team of Julien D'Ortoli and Noe Delpech, who finished second here last year.

Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada (BRA) are back in top form to defend their Star title here. After winning back to back the ISAF Worlds in Perth, the Rolex Miami OCR and the Trofeo Sofia Mapfre in Palma, the Brazilians have set the bar high. But former World Champions and Beijing Gold medallist Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson will be gunning for the title as will Loof/Salminen (SWE), World #2 Melleby/Pedersen and Bacardi Cup winners French Xavier Rohart and Pierre-Alexis Ponsot.

In the Finns Olympic selection continues for the Polish, Czech, Turkish and Slovenian teams. Already selected for London, Athens Silver medallist and World champion Rafa Trujillo (ESP) will only have his eyes set on the title. The young generation with Caleb Paine (USA), Matt Coutts (NZL) or Deniss Karpak (EST) are also to be watched in the absence of many of the class's favourites who are training for their World Championship in Falmouth mid-May.

The Women's Match Racing will see another week of great battles against the best teams. The Mermaid team of France's Claire Leroy, Elodie Bertrand and Marie Riou will enjoy racing on homewaters against four strong US teams or last year winners, the British team of MacGregor/Lush/MacGregor.

In the Paralympic classes, the 2.4 sees one of the best fleets ever with 28 of the World's best. World Champion Damien Seguin (FRA) will be back to try and win his seventh title! He will face Trofeo Sofia Mapfre winner Thierry Schmitter (NED), Beijing Gold medallist Paul Tingley (CAN), and last year's runner-up Megan Pascoe (GBR).

Bruno Jourdren, Nicolas Vimont-Vicary and Eric Flageul (FRA) will defend their title in the Sonar and British World Champions Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell will be back attempting to claim another victory in the Skud after winning Sail Melbourne and Miami OCR.

The British squad is much reduced compared to that which took part at the Princess Sofia Trophy in Palma. Skandia Team GBR has fielded its top sailors in just four of the ten Olympic classes. In addition to Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson in the Star and Lucy Macgregor's women’s match racing team, the 49er and Laser Radial sailors are much in evidence hoping to catch the eye of the RYA’s Olympic selectors, as they remain the only classes in the British line-up still awaiting selection to go to London 2012.

John Pink-Rick Peacock, Dave Evans-Ed Powys, Stevie Morrison-Ben Rhodes and Dylan Fletcher-Alain Sign will be aiming to impress in the 49er as will performance squad sailors Charlotte Dobson and Alison Young who both finished inside the top ten in the Laser Radial class at the previous World Cup series event in Palma earlier this month.

“With just less than 100 days to go now to the Games, we’re really getting to the business end of the four-year cycle and this regatta is going to be incredibly competitive,” explained the RYA Olympic Manager Stephen Park. “Many nations will be using this as part of their Olympic trials and indeed in the events that we’re competing in we would hope to be challenging for the podium. It is going to be tough – there’s no doubt about that. Everyone’s going to be on their best performances across all the countries, but hopefully we’ll be able to get a few people onto the podium by the end of the week.”

For Star Olympic Champions Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson, the French Olympic Sailing Week provides a dual purpose in their preparations towards their Olympic title defence this summer.

“We’ve got to pick equipment for sure because we don’t want to be thinking about that late, but we’ve also got to do regattas – this period was in the diary to do competitions so that we’re sharper at competitions,” said Percy explained, who will compete with Simpson at the Star World Championships also in Hyeres over 5-11 May, shortly after this World Cup regatta ends .

“We made a lot of basic mistakes in Palma – racing mistakes and the reason we’re racing now is to iron these out, get savvier, get sharper, so Hyeres will be great for that, especially if it’s strong winds. In those conditions you’ve got to be on the ball, you’ve got to be sharp and alert and it will help us going forward into Weymouth. [Hyeres and the Worlds] and Skandia Sail for Gold in Weymouth for us are just about racing again.”

Racing will start on Sunday at 10am for the Women Match Racing and at 11am for all other Olympic ad Paralympic classes.

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